Like Saudi Arabia, Israel Has a Soft Spot for Sunni Extremism

by | Jan 31, 2017


Thanks to last summer’s release of 28 pages detailing a variety of links between 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials—and the October leak of a 2014 email from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaring the Saudi government was directly supporting ISIS—it’s increasingly clear that the US government’s depiction of Saudi Arabia as a vital ally in the “war on terror” is dishonest.

Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia isn’t the only supposed “ally” whose official depiction as a steadfast foe of terrorism is out of sync with reality: The branding of Israel is also deeply misleading.

Israeli Aid to Al Qaeda in Syria

Though it received very little coverage in US media, last year it was revealed that the Israeli government was providing medical support to the al Nusra Front, a Syrian arm of al Qaeda.

That would seem inconsistent with routine declarations from US politicians that there should be “no daylight” between the United States and Israel, language that suggests two peoples whose interests are in perfect alignment.

Where Israel’s support of an al Qaeda affiliate is concerned, however, a former chief of the Mossad—Israel’s national intelligence agency—pulls no punches in differentiating between US and Israeli interests.

Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan asked Efraim Halevy why Israel would give medical aid to wounded members of al Qaeda—and return them to jihad in Syria—but not to the wounded of Hezbollah, the Iran-allied Shi’a militant group in Lebanon that has often clashed with Israel and has been linked, sometimes dubiously, to terror attacks.

“We have a different account with Hezbollah. A totally different account. Al Qaeda, to the best of my recollection, has not attacked Israel,” he said.

Incredulous, Hasan replied, “It has attacked your number one ally and protector and sponsor, the United States of America!”

“Israel was not specifically targeted by al Qaeda, and therefore it’s a different kind of account than we have with Hezbollah,” replied Halevy.

So much for “no daylight.”

Former Israeli Diplomat: ‘Let the Sunni Evil Prevail’

It wasn’t the first time a former Israeli official voiced a preference for Sunni extremism, even though Sunni terror has proven—before, during and after 9/11—a far greater menace to American and Western lives than Shi’a extremism.

Speaking at the Aspen Institute in June 2014, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said Israel should hope Sunni extremists prevail in Iraq.

“If we have to choose the lesser of evils, it’s the Sunnis over the Shi’a,” said Oren. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s gotta be an evil that’s gonna prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail.”

(The large majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are Sunnis, and the actions of a small minority of extremists shouldn’t be attributed to the vast, peaceful majority. Indeed, that peaceful majority is often victimized by the extreme minority.)

Israeli Think Tank: ISIS a ‘Useful Tool’ for Undermining Iran

In another example of Israeli establishment sympathy for Sunni terrorism, an Israeli think tank, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (known as BESA), contended in a paper published in August that the United States should stop short of fully eradicating ISIS.

Why? In addition to claiming that doing so would create a diaspora of fleeing terrorists who would bring fresh havoc around the world, BESA emphasized the fact that Iran-allied Hezbollah “is being seriously taxed by the fight against (ISIS), a state of affairs that suits Western interests.”

“The Western distaste for (ISIS) brutality and immorality should not obfuscate strategic clarity,” argued BESA’s Efraim Inbar. “Unfortunately, the Obama administration fails to see that its main enemy is Iran.”

Talk about obfuscation: Iran may be the chief regional rival of Israel, but it certainly isn’t the main enemy of the United States—and probably shouldn’t be considered an “enemy” at all (which is certainly not to suggest that the Iranian government is virtuous).

In seeking to counter Iran and its Hezbollah allies, however, the Israeli government is incentivized to lead US policymakers and citizens to regard Iran as a great menace to America and to cultivate false allegations about Iran’s nuclear program—supported by counterfeit intelligence that has plausibly been attributed to Israel.

It’s a repeat of the pattern observed in 2002, when Benjamin Netanyahu (at that time, both a former and future prime minister) and the Israeli government urged the United States to launch its disastrous regime change invasion of Iraq to eliminate a non-existent nuclear weapons program.

Americans Have a Different Kind of Account With Iran

Governments ultimately make policy based on a determination of their own governmental interests (which may differ from the actual interests of the people they govern). Those policies are often ruthless.

Given that, perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that Israel would provide direct assistance to an affiliate of the organization that unleashed the devastating 9/11 attacks on its greatest benefactor—no more than it was shocking to discover the many links between US “ally” Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 hijackers.

Israel’s conduct should, however, provide a much-needed wake-up call for the many Americans who continue to place the Israeli government and its current prime minister on an undeserved pedestal.

And for all Americans, the revelation of Israel’s aid to al Nusra—like the revelation of Saudi links to the 9/11 hijackers—should prompt a reexamination of government-fostered assumptions about which forces in the world are truly allies and enemies of the American people, keeping in mind that some deserve neither label.

In other words, to borrow Mossad veteran Halevy’s rhetoric, the American people should recognize that they have “a different kind of account” with Iran and Hezbollah than the Israeli government does, which means—unlike Netanyahu and his government—we shouldn’t want al Qaeda, al Nusra and other Sunni extremists to flourish just because they are enemies of Iran and Hezbollah.

The Most Overrated Government in the War on Terror: Our Own

While revelations of Saudi and Israeli support for Sunni extremism may be disheartening, Americans should reserve their greatest condemnation for their own government.

After all, it was the United States government that, in 1979, began collaborating with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to foster extremism in Afghanistan to thwart the Soviet Union, a decision that elevated Osama bin Laden to legendary status among the mujahideen and their wealthy backers in Saudi Arabia, established a network of terrorism stretching from North Africa to the Philippines, gave rise to al Qaeda and eventually set the stage for the 9/11 attacks.

It began with President Jimmy Carter, but every president since has had a hand in fomenting Sunni extremism, right up through the administration of Barack Obama, which may or may not have not directly aided al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, but certainly backed so-called “moderate rebels” who are directly collaborating with them.

In 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency warned that regime change efforts in Syria could prompt the rise of an ISIS-like entity. However, the Obama administration plunged ahead in what former DIA Director Michael Flynn and current National Security Advisor called a “willful decision” to support an insurgency that included Salafists and al Qaeda.

Promoting Chaos…to What End?

Like the Netanyahu-encouraged invasion of Iraq, the willful decision to fertilize extremism in Syria may have been rooted in a perception that a shattered Syria would be good for Israel, even if the resulting power vacuum were filled by the likes of ISIS and al Qaeda.

Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, told last year that, for some, continued Middle East turmoil is an intended outcome of US policy: “There are people in this country who believe the chaos in the Middle East, to include the brutal civil war in Syria, is conducive to Israel’s security.”

That chaos, fostered by the United States government in concert with Israel and Saudi Arabia, has taken a terrible human toll while strengthening the forces of terror. Particularly for a government that exists to serve the interests of American citizens, no real or perceived benefit to Israel or the Saudi monarchy can possibly justify it.

Reprinted with permission from